Humans: The Cooking Ape

Perhaps the first to suggest that humans were cooking as early as 1.9 million years ago, Richard Wrangham shows through his new research and his imagination how and possibly when cooking changed humans dramatically. Wrangham, Harvard University primatologist and MacArthur Fellow, has been studying the evolution of human cooking. After 25 years of primate research at his site in Kibale, Uganda, Wrangham is best known for explaining the similarity and differences across species of primate social organizations. In Kibale, he has analyzed chimpanzees’ behavior: how it’s changed when they interact with the environment and how their social groups have evolved. In particular, he noticed how food changed their interactions with each other. Like that of chimps, human behavior has been affected by food, especially as they shifted from raw to cooked food. Moving from eating food as it was discovered to collecting edibles and cooking them altered our social relationships. Cooked food has changed Homo sapiens physically by making food more digestible thereby altering jaws, teeth, and guts, and providing more calories for more expensive organs such as the brain. Wrangham discusses when and how humans may have started using fire to cook food, what they cooked, and the transition from cooking in an outdoor fire to hearths and open ovens.

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